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I am reviewing a newer form of Holland & Barrett Sunvite Vitamin D3. The new tablet size is about a third smaller than the old one, but as they replace the old H&B Vitamin D3 I will review them here.
After being diagnosed with hypothyroidism but not improving despite thyroxine therapy, I went through every test imaginable to find out why - MRI, CT, ultrasound, and blood tests galore - but finally my endocrinologist said there was no reason for my persistent fatigue, but that certain vitamins supplements might help. This was a pretty last-ditch attempt, but I went with it anyway. Vitamin D3 was one of the vitamin supplements he suggested.
Most people will know that vitamin D is synthesised from sun exposure, and that it helps the body to absorb calcium, hence the product name 'Sunvite'.
Vitamin D deficiency is responsible for rickets. It is also responsible for other bone-softening diseases including osteoporosis. Low levels are also linked with cancer, multiple sclerosis, problems during pregnancy and general mortality. I don't have these illnesses (especially not the last one), but as I don't get out much due to my condition, I don't get the chance to absorb vitamin D from the sun as most adults would.
It is also something to consider for vegetarians and vegans (vitamin D can also be found in fish and meat, as well as fortified milk), people who cover themselves fully when outside for religious, health or fashion reasons, and those of African or Caribbean descent (as melanin in the skin can interfere with proper natural production of vitamin D). Plus, anyone living in the UK should consider taking vitamin D supplements, simply because the weather is often not conductive for the short but frequent sun exposure needed to synthesise vitamin D naturally. Vitamin D is safe for anyone to take, from children and pregnant or breastfeeding women to the elderly. Obviously it is paramount you contact your doctor beforehand to get the correct dosage, as it is possible to overdose, and that it may clash with other medications.
So what is vitamin D? There are two types of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is approximately closer to the naturally occurring synthesisation of vitamin D due to sunshine striking bare skin (Cholecalciferol); Vitamin D2 is a synthetic form of vitamin D which is usually used to fortify foods (Ergocalciferol). Vitamin D2 metabolises poorly in the body and does not have a long shelf-life. Vitamin D3 is almost twice as potent as D2 and metabolises upto 500 times quicker. Sometimes you will find tales of D2 prescription medication (often on American websites) but that isn't really applicable, as D2 is a poor choice next to D3. Vitamin D3 is also hardly ever given on prescription here in the UK either, unless you have osteoporosis or (God forbid) rickets.
That's where these supplements come in. Holland & Barrett Vitamin D3 contain 25 'ug' or 1,000 IU (500% of the RDA of Vitamin D) in a small pill form. The pill is white, round and around 10 mm in diameter (it used to be 25mm). The new smaller pills are easier to swallow, but they are also easier to lose. When I dispense them from the bottle into my pill-box, I often lose a few on the floor as they are so small and hyperactive (and I am clumsy).
The bottle the pills come in is translucent yellow plastic with a flip-lid (a bit like a hundreds and thousands dispenser). As the bottle comes with no leaflet, information is given on the label. The yellow design is obviously evocative of sunshine.
The bottles come in variations of 100 or 250 pills, at strengths from 10 micrograms (ug) to 25 micrograms (ug). 25 ug is the strongest form available. The dosage is one a day, with a meal. I take mine with breakfast. The pill is tasteless and doesn't dissolve easily in the mouth or leave an aftertaste (which I am grateful for).
Holland & Barrett guarantee these products are certified free of:
- No Artificial Colours, Flavours or Sweeteners. - No Preservatives. - No added Salt. No Milk, No Corn, No Lactose, No Gluten, No Wheat, No Yeast, No Fish, No Porcine, No Soya.
As this product could be recommended for a vegetarians and vegan lifestyle, is it friendly towards them? Yes and no. Industrial production of Cholecalciferol is produced via ultraviolet irradiation of lanolin in sheep's wool. Cholesterol is extracted from wool grease and wax wool alcohol from cleaned wool after shearing and then irradiated in a four-step process to create the basic molecule that forms Cholecalciferol. Thus, this product is obviously not suitable for vegans, as it uses animal by-products. Luckily for them, D3 is also industrially produced from lichen, such as Vitashine Vitamin D3, suitable for both vegetarians AND vegans for around the same price. Unfortunately, if you are a vegan, you will not find that product in Holland & Barrett and you will have to buy it online.
OK, so we know what's in it and what's not in it, but what happens when it's in you?
Within Europe, manufacturers of Vitamin D supplements or food enriched with vitamin D are allowed to state that their product supports:
- Normal function of the immune system; - Normal inflammatory response; - Normal muscle function; - Reduced risk of falling in people over age 60.
So that's the good, now the bad... It is possible to overdose on Vitamin D3. This leads to over-absorption of calcium that harms the kidneys (presumably through calcium deposits / kidney stones). It is advised not to take more than 1 pill a day, but even so, you'd need to take over 10,000 IU over a long period of time to feel the effects of overdose. Obviously this is not recommended...
Holland & Barrett sell this product at £8.05 for 100 tablets and £18.15 for 250 pills. They are often included in the 'penny sale' promotion, where we often get 2 bottles (200 pills) for £8.06. A bottle of 100 pills would last 1 person taking 1 pill a day just over 3 months and 3 weeks.
Both my father and I take the tablets daily. Unlike the other vitamins recommended by my endocrinologist, I have not seen any obvious differences. However, neither of us have had any broken bones. Neither of us have had the flu, either, but we've both had colds. It is difficult to say whether the vitamin has worked or not, but we are both continuing to take it. It is also a lot safer than sunbeds or even going out in the sunshine without SPF lotion on (if that sunshine situation does indeed occur). The pills are not exactly a cool drink outside in the sunshine, but it's better than nothing.